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Conference paper - Peer-reviewed, 2009

Towards a transdisciplinary understanding of emergy accumulation.

Bergquist, Daniel; Rydberg, Torbjörn


It is increasingly apparent that global capitalism is not capable of generating fair and sustainable
development. This has been criticized by system perspectives in natural as well as social sciences.
General Systems Theory (GST) emphasizes flows of energy and materials between systems, and
enables descriptive quantification of North-South relations. Meanwhile, World System Theory (WST) is
more explanatory, in concentrating on the history and asymmetric power relations of the global
capitalist system. Both perspectives have shown that global trade results in asymmetric accumulation
processes, among other reasons due to ways of establishing value that underestimate the contribution
by people and the environment. In this paper it is proposed that this problem be eased by determining
what feedback mechanisms in the world system are positive and negative, and that this in turn may be
operationalized by prioritizing processes that facilitate maximum empower. This calls for new
approaches to global trade that are ecologically realist, and acknowledge unequal distributive aspects
of resources and power. However, GST offers only limited articulation of the concept of political
power. Similarly, WST proponents seldom specify what is being accumulated in world trade. Thus,
whereas GST with its emergy concept provides a means for calculating flows and interactions, i.e., to
quantify accumulation, WST offers a framework to emphasize power relations within different parts of
the world system. However, there are intra-disciplinary difficulties in communicating the outcome
from the two approaches. In this paper, critical arguments derived from this gap are presented,
emphasizing opportunities and constraints in theory and terminology. The ambition is that those
critical arguments will give an entrance and hints where pedagogical and information skills should be
given first priority, in order to help each approach to understand the other, and ultimately push
research towards a more transdisciplinary understanding of emergy accumulation.

Published in

Book title: Emergy synthesis 5 : theory and applications of the emergy methodology : Proceedings from the Fifth Biennial Emergy Conference, Gainesville, Florida
Publisher: The Center for Environmental Policy


EMERGY SYNTHESIS 5: Theory and Applications of the Emergy Methodology. Proceedings from the Fifth Biennial Emergy Conference, Gainesville, Florida. December 2009

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Urban and Rural Development
Rydberg, Torbjörn
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Urban and Rural Development

UKÄ Subject classification

Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

URI (permanent link to this page)